All men want wide, well-defined shoulders. They’ve become somewhat of a representation of strength and dominance. Women find wide shoulders to be a desirable physical trait on men and knowing that, we spend all sorts of time in the gym training to bulk them up (or at least we should). Women also seem to appreciate toned, sleek looking shoulders on themselves since they’re exposed when they wear tank tops etc.
More important than vanity however, is the functionality of the shoulder region. Ever sustained a shoulder injury? If so, you most likely experienced pain during activities you didn’t even realize involved your shoulder. Basically, anytime your arm moves in any direction, the shoulders are involved. Even if remaining stationary, as in a bicep curl or elbow extension, your shoulders are still recruited as a movement stabilizer.
When you have a shoulder injury, it can certainly make life rather difficult. And unfortunately, due to their anatomical makeup, they’re very susceptible to injuries. Unlike other joints, the shoulder joint does not rely on the skeletal system for stability. Rather, shoulder joint stability comes from the surrounding muscles and ligaments. Knowing this, it is important to get set up on a good shoulder strengthening program to reduce the risk.
Strong surrounding muscles that are free of imbalances will greatly reduce the chance of sustaining an injury. The shoulders are comprised of the deltoids (3 muscles) and the rotator cuff (4 muscles). In order to design an effective weight training program, you first need to understand how the muscles of the shoulders function..
The deltoids are composed of 3 “heads”, all of which serve their own individual functions. The 3 parts of the deltoid are the anterior, lateral and posterior but to keep it simple, we’ll just refer to them as the front, middle and rear.
The front head of the deltoid is involved anytime you elevate or push your arm forward. Since the front of the shoulder is trained anytime you do a chest press movement, it usually gets trained enough during your chest workouts and further isolation isn’t necessary.
Although, an exception to this would possibly be during a rehabilitation stage following some sort of injury. In which case, performing front dumbbell raises may be a possible solution. The overhead plate press and the overhead barbell press to the front are also exercises that can be used to strengthen the front of the shoulder.
The middle (lateral) head is the strongest of the deltoid and is responsible for drawing the arm out to the side. With some assistance from the anterior deltoid and the triceps, the lateral delts play a major role in elevating the arm overhead – as in an overhead dumbbell press. Another great movement for the lateral deltoid is the lateral raise exercise. Lateral raises are an awesome way to isolate the muscle.
While the anterior deltoid gets trained anytime you perform a chest press exercise, the rear deltoid gets trained anytime you perform a row-type movement for the upper back and because of that, their isn’t much of a need to perform separate isolation exercises.
The function of the posterior deltoid is to extend the arm back and assist in drawing the arm down, as in a lat pulldown or chin up. If you need to isolate the posterior deltoid, you can do so by performing bent over lateral raises using a set of dumbbells.
The rotator cuff – which is composed of four muscles – provides stability within the shoulder joint. Each individual muscle within the rotator cuff also serves specific functions.
Along with providing stability to the shoulder joint, the subscapularis is recruited when the arm is rotated internally or when drawn to the sides. The exercises that best replicate these movements are internal rotations and modified cable pull-downs.
The infraspinatus is very susceptible to injury. Only the supraspinatus gets injured more often. The main functions of the infraspinatus are to provide stability to the shoulder (along with the other muscles of the rotator cuff) and to assist the teres minor with external arm rotation.
Of course – as said over and over again – the exercises you select should closely mimic a muscles function so in this case, the external rotation exercise is a great way to strengthen the infraspinatus. The infraspinatus also plays a role when performing pull down and chin up exercises.
The teres minor helps to stabilize the shoulder – especially when the arm is elevated. Like the infraspinatus, the teres minor is also strengthened via external rotation and pulldown/chin up exercises.
The supraspinatus provides shoulder joint stability and assists the lateral deltoid (middle shoulder) in elevating the arm out to the side. Lateral raises are a great exercise to strengthen the supraspinatus and as mentioned above, the lateral deltoid.
The supraspinatus is very susceptible to injury – even more so than the infraspinatus. The available space between the top of the humerus (upper arm bone) and the roof of the shoulder is very limited. Since the supraspinatus runs through this small space, elevating the arm beyond the height of the shoulder while the palm is positioned downwards can potentially cause an impingement. This impingement is commonly seen in athletes that perform repetitive overhead movements such as swimmers and tennis players.
Once impinged, the muscles and tendons will eventually swell, which decreases the space between the humerus and the “roof” of the shoulder. So pay close attention to your form and for more details on how to train the shoulder region, just review the exercises to your right.